Why Writing Alternate History is Both Awesome and Soul Crushing

While writing alternate history, you may become a slight rage monster, but that is OK because that’s why alcohol exists.

Consider the following:

Pros:

1.  You’re not bound strictly by the constraints of historical events, so any anachronisms are expected. So if you want to create a city-wide electricity system before electricity went city-wide, you could have at it, I suppose.

2. You can let your imagination run wild. It’s interesting to consider how certain historical events have shaped certain countries, or even the world. What could have happened if those events had gone another way? How would it have influenced society, culture, language, the world? Writing alternate history allows you to re-imagine the world in the different way using real events as pivotal points.

3. I wouldn’t say it’s easier to write or that there is less research involved, so just toss that idea right out the window. But you are under less pressure to get the historical minutiae correct.

4. You treat alternate history as one part reality, one part fantasy. So at least half of your writing time isn’t pausing to look up the historical accuracy of the scene you’re trying to write, so you can keep typing away as long as what you’re writing fits in with the rules of your alternate world. Which is the great thing! You invent the rules, too!

 

Cons:

1. If you’re creating an alternate history, it still needs to have some believability to it. Whether that’s in the way the technology works, or recognizing how a singular event changed the course of history. If it’s grounded in its real life history, the story becomes a true “what if?”  It resonates. It becomes possible. And that’s always the best kind of read. So while I said there was less pressure in getting the historical minutiae correct, it means still knowing the minutiae so you can address it. So there is still a great deal of historical research involved, possibly more, because you have to turn history on its ear.

2. Just because you know something is a deliberate anachronism doesn’t mean readers will. Especially if your alternate history still plays very heavily on its historical roots, so historical readers will be paying attention. You’re obligated to make the historical aspects look well researched, and the alternate aspects more apparent. And it’s a very delicate balance.

3. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Fact: certain historical events were inevitable. A lot of small decisions lead up to the final pivotal event that made it possible. So once again, you’re responsible for knowing all of the minutiae leading to the end game and coming up with explanations for an alternate catalyst event that made your history possible.

4. In the end, you MAY find yourself consuming more coffee/chocolate than usual. There may also be a few silent tears. That’s OK. Just keep going.

yes.

And when you’re done with the manuscript, seconds away from a coffee coma, you feel a moment of victory because GO YOU YOU DID IT YOU GLORIOUS CREATURE!!!

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About Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May resides in Edinburgh, Scotland where she can frequently be spotted skulking about dark wynds with a camera in hand. Her début novel THE FALCONER (2013) is set in a steampunk version of 19th-century Scotland, where a teen girl is the only human being alive who can stop the dark faeries threatening her life, her family, and her city.

One thought on “Why Writing Alternate History is Both Awesome and Soul Crushing

  1. Molcher says:

    I can sympathise greatly – currently sending myself mad with maps and research. Occasionally, it all fits into place but then my characters decide they want to do something else…

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